Psalm 139, Samuel, Nathanael, Martin Luther King and Julian of Norwich..Listen, Respond, you are called.

Second Sunday after the Epiphany-  Year B 2021

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Let us Listen, attune, and heed the inner voice of Love. In the sacred silence, we open ourselves to Wisdom, to ever deepening communion with the Source of all creation. Amen. (Nan Merrill)

Ya’ll I feel a bit like we are writing the 2021 verses of Billy Joel’s 1990 song “We didn’t start the Fire”- the list of unusual events keep occurring. Virus, Vaccines, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elections that take weeks to resolve, insurrections, and I am praying for a peaceful Martin Luther King Day and Inauguration….and 2021.

In turning to a new calendar year we start fresh with resolutions and yet those resolutions cannot ignore the underlying need for work to be done from things in 2020 and before. Billy Joel’s song we didn’t start the fire reminds us of all that this country has lived through viruses, has lived through impeachments, has grown during civil rights movements and that we are each molded by those historical events and we still have work to do, these too shape who we are now and how we are to proceed.

We take the pain and isolation of the past years and we have a choice, we can be immobilized by the pain, we can let bitterness take hold because of that pain, or we can use that pain and brokenness to discern a new path, one that nourishes our individual and collective souls.

In our Becoming Beloved Community Consultation gathering this past week, we began with listening to a familiar verse, I share it with you from the Message translation: You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all.

Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. (Ephesians 4:5-6)

This verse is around our baptismal font, it is our response at each baptism, it is our reality as a greater community, we are, together, on a road together….. so we should stay together outwardly and inwardly listening to God who rules over all…. in all that we do. When we stray from that oneness, we seem to create more things for Bill Joel to sing about.

To stay focused we have to listen and attune ourselves to that inner voice of Love.

We have to hear the brokenness of those resorting to violence and respond with what Dr King said “Unarmed truth and unconditional love.”

To respond takes discernment.

Discernment takes listening.

Listening means being still before responding.

Listening to your emotions, the source of those emotions, your reactions and the sources for those reactions.

 And that is what our scriptures are all about today, how do we listen and how do we respond?

Where is our call on this road we are on?

Young Samuel hears voices in the night calling his name.

As it could have been, he goes to Eli, his mentor and advisor and asks him what he wants…

Three things to note here about Samuel’s response.

Samuel responds immediately to the question (albeit to the wrong person)

Samuel answers receptively not defensively (not LET ME SLEEP FOR PETE’S SAKE)

And Samuel listens to Eli’s counsel of how to listen deeply.

And God keeps calling, patiently, persistently, until Samuel (the message translation says) responds to God with “Speak, I am ready to listen”

And in our Gospel, we have Nathaniel….

We know little about Nathaniel.

We know he is a friend of Phillip.

We know that Philip has been called up by Jesus right after Andrew and Simon Peter.

We know Philip and Nathaniel live in a town small enough to know each other.

We know that Nathaniel sits under fig trees.

And Nathaniel listens to a call from a friend, an invitation to go with.

Nathaniel responds to the visible joy, courage, and transformation of Phillip’s countenance, AND Nathaniel voices his reaction.

You see even back in Jesus’ time there was “us and them”

Nazareth was not known for prophets, scholars, the divine.

Nazareth was not the booming commercial city that Bethsaida was.

Nathaniel voiced what he knew of the other as his reaction.

And God is patient and persists.

Phillip invites, encourages, and says come with me and see for yourself.

And Nathaniel trusts Phillip enough to realize that Phillip might have a different story to receive.

An invitation, walking alongside, receptive.

Through a relationship Nathaniel comes to find himself meeting Jesus himself.

And Jesus responds to Nathaniel.

Nathaniel says to Phillip “I already know who anyone from Nazareth is” before even meeting Jesus.

To which Jesus responds, ‘I know you and have known you- similar to Psalm 139 appointed for today- I know your rising and laying down- I know you even spend time under the fig tree”

God knows are our deepest brokenness, our deepest wounds, the pain we refuse to let go of, the grudges we still hold and God says, I still love you and we can walk together with that also.

Psalm 139 is a beautiful reminder that you are indeed a work of art.

We don’t know why Nathaniel was under the Fig tree, was he eating lunch, was he teaching, was he nursing his wounds, was he bitter and angry, was he an introvert and recharging, was he isolated and ostracized?

We do know that even under the fig tree God was there present with him in that space and this call was surfacing within Nathaniel.

Where you are, there I will go

In the still silence and not the fire or earthquake

You are not alone, God is there with you and calling you to walk this same road.

Think about it, even our church history book is called “God Willing”- chronicling our own challenging times through fires, sickness, economics and step by step prayer by prayer walking this same road together. With lamentation, endurance and hope.

Julian of Norwich said it this way: No one listens, they tell me, and so l listen, and I tell them what they have just told me, and I sit in silence listening to them, letting them grieve.

These times have called us to listen deeply and respond.

To be reminded in our stir-crazy and lonely isolation days that we are not alone.

To be reminded in our tumultuous political struggles that we are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and as Dr King said, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We can never be what we ought to be until we are what you ought to be.”(MLK)

We come with our preconceptions and God meets us in our messiness, our grievances and invites us to be included.

To have a voice, to be listened to, to act as a beloved child and walk on this path with God.

Dr King did not have a Damascus road moment, his call to work occurred as he says, “My call to the ministry was neither dramatic nor spectacular. It came neither by some miraculous vision nor by some blinding light experience on the road of life. Moreover, it did not come as a sudden realization. Rather, it was a response to an inner urge that gradually came upon me. This urge expressed itself in a desire to serve God and humanity, and the feeling that my talent and my commitment could best be expressed through the ministry. At first I planned to be a physician; then I turned my attention in the direction of law. But as I passed through the preparation stages of these two professions, I still felt within that undying urge to serve God and humanity through the ministry. During my senior year in college, I finally decided to accept the challenge to enter the ministry. I came to see that God had placed a responsibility upon my shoulders and the more I tried to escape it the more frustrated I would become.” [i]

He further gave those in the civil rights movement these 10 commandments of practicing love in the work we are called to do:

  • Mediate daily on the teaching and life of Jesus
  • Seek justice and reconciliation- not victory
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love for god is love
  • Pray daily
  • Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and the world
  • Refrain from violence of fist, tongue or heart
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. [ii]

2021 is yes a new calendar year and yet is connected to our past, God is calling us forward on the same road together, it will take energy and courage and we will continue to walk together as the faithful have done together in a new way.

This week take a moment to read Psalm 139, listen deeply to those words,

If you have a fig tree sit under it, be like Nathanael and sit under it!

Listen to God calling YOU, hear that you are marvelously made and your neighbor is too.

Listen to God meet you there and call to you, by name.

Know that God knows your name and speaks it lovingly to you when God calls.

And seek that belovedness in each encounter you have with people on this road.

Focus on Practicing just one of the 10 Commandments of Non-Violence

Remember great things can come from even the most unexpected places.

You are not alone.


[i] https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/my-call-ministry

[ii] http://www.texasreaders.org/uploads/8/6/6/5/8665759/10_commandments.pdf

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